Monday, 18 November 2013

STL Interstellar War?

"...there can be no question of war fought over interstellar distances."

- Poul Anderson, Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), p. 188.

Why not? Anderson's Technic Civilization History presents several excellent descriptions of battles between interstellar space fleets. ("Standby for hyperdrive! Standby for combat! Glory to the Emperor!")

The answer to "Why not?" is that in the concluding chapter of Is There Life On Other Worlds?, Anderson considers only Einsteinian spacecraft - either reaction drive or field drive, as explained in the Appendix which unfortunately includes equations. These are essential to this subject matter but also beyond my comprehension.

However, Larry Niven makes a start on describing slower than light interstellar warfare in Protector. The basic requirement is technologically powerful beings with indefinitely prolonged lifespans and mutually incompatible long term goals. Thus, protectors live until killed by acccident or violence and plan long term for the survival of their bloodlines but operate in a pre-hyperdrive, Bussard ramjets only period of Niven's future history.

Knowing that humanity is descended from Pak, human protectors can predict that more Pak protectors will come from galactic centre. The human protectors use telescopes not to study natural phenomena but to detect artificial radiation. When two spacecraft become mutually detectable at a distance, each must assume that the other is hostile and change course accordingly. In human space, more breeders must be transformed into protectors so that a fleet can be launched to intercept the approaching Pak. Such a conflict will last for millennia at least and unfortunately Niven has not described it for us yet. Protector ends with the human protectors setting out.

Another good fictional use of the ramjet idea would be to describe two round trips on the trade circuit. Thus, a ship leaves Earth, visits say four planets, returns to Earth, then repeats the procedure so that we see two stages of social change on four colony planets and three stages on Earth. Trade can be STL (see Anderson's Kith) and maybe war can also.  


  1. Hi, Paul!

    I agree that Poul Anderson was skeptical of the practicality of STL interstellar warfare. But he did examine that idea in "Time Lag," where the planet Chertkoi tried to conquer Vaynamo thru expeditions spread out over decades. And I agree that interstellar warfare will be more likely and practical if a FTL drive is ever invented.

    Glory to the Emperor! Sean

  2. I forgot "Time Lag"!

    Glory to...Not really, I'm a Republican (not in the American sense)!


    1. Hi, Paul!

      And I am a conservative. Which means I'm relatively indifferent merely to FORMS of gov't. What matters is that a gov't, whatever its form, is LEGITIMATE, and accepted as such by its people. And, of course, that it obeys its own laws and accepts limitations on its powers.

      Too often, indeed MOST times, any attempt at replacing a flawed but tolerable regime with a hypothetically more perfect political system has backfired GRUESOMELY. Which is why I agree with what Dominic Flandry said in THE GAME OF EMPIRE in opposing revolutions.

      So, I'll take a decent, kindly well meaning Louis XVI any day over the blood drenched Robespierre.